kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building
original content
nov 18, 2011
kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building


‘capsule from the nakagin capsule tower building’ on display at mori art museum 
image © designboom

‘metabolism – the city of the future –
dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’,
on at the mori art museum in tokyo, japan
until january 15th, 2012.

japanese architecture took a daring glance at a possible future when, in 1972, kisho kurokawa completed
the ‘nakagin capsule tower building’. the two towers were built on the idea that structures, much like in nature,
could be created out of cells. 140 individual pods could be changed and moved as needed, creating a flexible
and adaptable unit. the towers consisted of a fixed central column to which these individual capsules
could be bolted and removed with four high-tension bolts. the idea was that every 25 years or so,
the pods could be replaced, giving the building a 200 year life span.  

the perceivable future seemed to warrant a structure like this. kurokawa imagined a world where people
no longer needed a single dwelling but instead would live a more nomadic lifestyle, interchanging between various homes,
living in up to five different places. his audience was international business men who, working late, would need only a small area
to rest and rejuvenate before heading to their next destination. 

individuals should be protected by capsules in which they can reject information they do not need and in which
they are sheltered from information they do not want, thereby allowing an individual to recover his subjectivity
and independence
‘ – kisho kurokawa


view of back 
image © designboom

these concepts came from the japanese metabolism movement, to which kurokawa was a dedicated contributor.
the small group of architects imagined a world of flexible cities where buildings, like people,
were transient and ever changing. known as avant-garde architecture, the architects believed that traditional
fixed forms were no longer applicable to the modern lifestyle. the ‘nakagin capsule towers’ were
a direct demonstration of these manifestos, and although the group no longer exists,
its ideas have been the basis of countless projects since.

the individual capsules are 2.3 m × 3.8 m x 2.1 m (7.5 ft x 12 ft x 6.9 ft) and include a bed,
storage area and a small bathroom, just enough space for one person. the concrete units were prefabricated
off site in a factory and shipped to the location upon completion to be attached to central blocks.
each pod was fully equipped, much like a hotel, enabling the residents to live there without the hassle of moving in.
a built-in television, fixtures, sheets and even a toothbrush was included in each individual habitat.


graphic promotion of the metabolism exhibit at the mori art museum printed onto the capsule 
image © designboom

unfortunately, the world was not yet ready for this drastic change of lifestyle. although the building
was based on the idea of transformation, no updates were ever initiated. the original capsules, installed in 1972,
are still there almost 40 years later (including their televisions). although structures like this require maintenance,
there was no initiative to preserve or update the quarters. intended for a different way of life,
the owners tried to adapt it to a traditional one, with entire families trying to squeeze into a single pod.

time and lack of maintenance have taken their toll. leaking pipes, mildew and asbestos have made
living there dangerous for the residents. instead of changing the pods and renovating the building,
as was the intention, the residents voted to tear down the building and reconstruct a new one in its place.
until his death in 2007, kurokawa fought to keep the structure and update the capsules as he originally planned.
for designboom’s account on the future demolition, click here

although it is evident that the structure needs some work, demolishing the building instead of renovating it is a testament
to the power of a profit-driven society. since kurokawa’s death, there has been no real initiative to preserve this monument
dedicated to forward thinking. instead, it has become a demonstration of the lack of appreciation for not just architectural
history but also the possibility that was once encapsulated in the structure. 


view into capsule through the circular window 
image © designboom

in japan, prefabricated housing was developed in the 1950s and 1960s to produce housing using factory-made
components that could be assembled on site. one of the precursors of this prefab architecture was syowa station,
designed by asada takashi. meanwhile, kurokawa kisho fitted all the functions of a house into a detachable
capsule that could be swapped in and out to accommodate changes in the urban environment.
this idea was realized in his nakagin capsule tower bulding. one of the focuses of this exhibition is how
prefab architecture and capsule architecture affected subsequent housing architecture.
- the mori art museum 

one of the capsules from the building is on show during the exhibition ‘metabolism – the city of the future –
dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’ at the mori art museum .


interior view 
image © designboom


capsule includes built in radio, phone and television
image © designboom


interior view of ’nakagin capsule tower building’ (1972) by kurokawa kisho
‘metabolism, the city of the future: dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’
installation view: mori art museum
image © watanabe osamu, courtesy of mori art museum


view of building
image © designboom


(right)’summer house k’ another work by kurokawa based on the same idea of using capsules 
(left)the towers during construction 
image © ohashi tomio


poster of the metabolism movement 
‘nakagin capsule tower building’ (1972) by kurokawa kisho
‘metabolism, the city of the future: dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’
image courtesy: mori art museum


isometric, floor plans and diagram demonstrating the bolt system
images courtesy of lewism 


section of the tower 
images courtesy of the department of civil and structural engineering from the hong kong polytechnic university 

comments policy
LOG IN VIA
login with designboom
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.

product library